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David Cronenberg (1943 - )

Lifespan: 1943 -

Related: the new flesh - biological horror - body horror - Canada

David Cronenberg manages to create films cerebral enough for the loftiest of critics, yet bloody enough for the most jaded gorehounds. -- V.Vale and A.Juno in "Incredibly Strange Films".

"One is forgiven to think that Cronenberg's films display an attitude of disgust to the human body: anyone who can devise stories revolving around a parasite specially bred to take over the functions of diseased organs, a cable TV programmer with an organic VCR slot in his stomach, or a scientist who watches with ironic detachment as his ears and fingernails fall off, must surely be fascinated with the human body in every last one of its possible permutations"

If there is a filmmaker who has accurately captured the pathological undercurrents of late 20th Century terminal life: institutionalised disaster areas, deviant sexual impulses spinning out of control and the rise of a Dark Culture, it is truly Canadian David Cronenberg. -- Alex Burns

Titles: The Brood (1979) - Videodrome (1983)

Videodrome (1983) - David Cronenberg [Amazon.com]


David Paul Cronenberg (born March 15, 1943) is a Canadian horror and science fiction film director. He is famous for creating the genre of "body horror", exploring people's fears of bodily transformation and infection. In his films, the psychological is typically intertwined with the physical.

Cronenberg's films follow a definite progression, a movement from the social world to the inner life. In his early films, scientists modify human bodies, which results in social anarchy (E.g. Shivers, Rabid). In his middle period, the chaos wrought by the scientist is more personal, (E.g. The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome). In the later period, the scientist himself is altered by his hubris (E.g. The Fly). This trajectory culiminates in Dead Ringers, in which a twin pair of gynecologists spiral into codependency and drug addiction.

Cronenberg's later films tend more to the psychological, often contrasting subjective and obective realities (eXistenZ, M. Butterfly, Spider.)

In most projects, Cronenberg tries to represent his motto New Flesh, which explains the mutation of human body or living organism by a machine or any other mutated organism, into the New Flesh. In both options, the flesh is supposed to be distorted by man who creates the machinery or the organisms. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Cronenberg [Oct 2004]

The Fly (1986) - David Cronenberg

The Fly (1986) - David Cronenberg
[FR] [DE] [UK]

A brilliant but eccentric scientist begins to transform into a giant man/fly hybrid after one of his experiments goes horribly wrong. A celebration of biological horror, body horror, metamorphoses and the theme of the beauty and the beast. One of David Cronenberg's mainstream films.

See also: metamorphoses - David Cronenberg - 1986


  1. Censors tend to do what only psychotics do... they confuse reality with illusion.
  2. A friend of mine saw 'Videodrome', said he really liked it, and added, you know someday they're going to lock you up.
  3. [Suicide] ...it's probably the only way we can give our death a meaning, because otherwise it's completely arbitrary.
  4. I don't have a moral plan. I'm a Canadian.

Subversion of the horror genre

My introduction to the cinema of David Cronenberg was provided by an exploding head in Scanners (1981); I was hooked. I watched The Brood, Videodrome and The Dead Zone in quick succession (and not chronologically, I must point out), and the director's major themes were made clear. Cronenberg is fascinated by the human body, particularly the human body in revolt. His best films - The Fly, Shivers, Dead Ringers - are all concerned with the sometimes-tentative relationship we have with our own bodies. Often sexual in nature (think of Jeff Goldblum's penis stored in a jar in The Fly), the cinematic concerns of Cronenberg reached their apotheosis in the controversial Crash. The novels of JG Ballard would seem like a good stomping ground for the Canadian auteur, and his treatment of Crash bears this out (how about an adaptation of Ballard's "The Drowned World" Mr C?). Highly confrontational, the film links sexual practices with injuries sustained in car crashes, and this is taking us to a place that nobody really wants to go, except at the local cinema (and that's as good a definition of a great horror film as I can come up with).

Cronenberg, it seems to me, provides the only link between subversive seventies horror and the root of what is great in nineties horror (and hopefully well into the next century). While all other directors associated with the genre are falling into self-parody (Carpenter with Escape from LA, De Palma with just about every film he's made since Scarface, and Craven with the Scream franchise, of course), Cronenberg continues to subvert the expectations of the genre (take a look at Naked Lunch if you doubt me). [ ... ]

Authorship, genre cinema and nationality

Although film culture knows him as a cultish horror film director, David Cronenberg is also a Canadian filmmaker. Yet, his nationality carries no resonance, nor has it drawn any but the scantiest attention from film critics, Canadian or not 1. When we attempt to discover the potential ramifications of Cronenberg's nationality, moreover, we discover instead that questions of authorship, genre cinema and nationality are fraught with problems. Even Canadian critics preoccupied with recuperating the director for their national film culture proceed by way of auteurist interpretation and they, too, wind up sidestepping questions of nationality. This may partly be explained by the inordinate extremity of the director's imagery. -- Bart Testa in Technology's Body: Cronenberg, Genre, and the Canadian Ethos

The body is technologized, and technology is humanised

Videodrome and eXistenZ both revise concepts of physical presence in relation to media technology. Both films depict media as extensions of the body, creating the sense that technology is indeed part of us. Cronenberg expresses this concept literally in the films by meshing the body and technology together, focusing intensely on the form that the body is translated into when interacting with media. In Videodrome and eXistenZ the body is technologized, and technology is humanised. Therefore Cronenberg breaks down the traditional binary oppositions between man and machine, creating a "new flesh" from the transmutation of the body.7 -- Rowan Laing in A Comparison between the Theories of Marshall McLuhan and two films by David Cronenberg

More films

Separate entries: Videodrome (1983)

  1. Scanners (1981) - David Cronenberg [Amazon US]
    David Cronenberg's 1981 horror film is a darkly paranoid story of a homeless man (Stephen Lack) mistakenly believed to be insane, when in fact he can't turn off the sound of other people's thoughts in his telepathic mind. Helped by a doctor (Patrick McGoohan) and enlisted in a program of "scanners"--telepaths who also can will heads to explode--he becomes involved in a battle against nefarious forces. A number of critics consider this to be Cronenberg's first great film, and indeed it has a serious vision of destiny that rivals some of the important German expressionist works from the silent cinema. Lack is very good as the odd hero, and McGoohan is effectively eccentric and chilly as the scientist who saves him from the street, only to thrust him into a terrible struggle. --Tom Keogh for Amazon.com

  2. Dead Ringers (1988) - David Cronenberg [Amazon US]
    David Cronenberg, for so long an auteur of films typified by schlocky, low-budget splatter effects and a profoundly disturbing intelligence, turned to drama with his 1988 masterpiece "Dead Ringers". It flirts with some of his usual themes - a fusion of the brain and body, mad doctors (with weird names), and decay - but there's a level of sophistication here that tops all of his previous work. Here, special effects are used in the background, as Jeremy Irons gives an utterly compelling (and damn convincing) performance as two twin gynaecologists, whose descent into drugs and madness will surely leave even the most ardent horror viewer deeply disturbed. On one level, it works almost as Shakespearean tragedy, as the two brothers imitate each other in an affair with Genevieve Bujold. When the less confident twin wants to "keep it for myself", it sparks instant dissonance between the disturbingly close kin. On another level, it's a crazed horror film involving bizarre medical instruments, and gynaecological mutations. The truly tragic conclusion leaves the viewer dazed, confused, but above all, deeply emotional, and for that alone it should deserve the term "masterpiece". Other factors that allow it such a term are the truly masterful performances (Cronenberg a master of getting Oscar-contending acting out of even the most mediocre performers), the genius use of special effects, the compellingly cold direction, and Howard Shore's extraordinary score. To say it's not for all tastes is an understatement, as it's probably the darkest film of the past decade, but for those with an interest in grippingly-executed, profoundly disturbing psychological horror/drama, "Dead Ringers" is one of the most marvellous films around. -- Allan Harrison for amazon.com

  3. Rabid (1977) - David Cronenberg [Amazon.com]

    See entry on Marilyn Chambers

  4. eXistenZ (1999) - David Cronenberg [Amazon.com]
    Director David Cronenberg's eXistenZ is a stew of corporate espionage, virtual reality gaming, and thriller elements, marinated in Cronenberg's favorite Crock-Pot juices of technology, physiology, and sexual metaphor. Jennifer Jason Leigh is game designer Allegra Geller, responsible for the new state-of-the-art eXistenZ game system; along with PR newbie Ted Pikul (Jude Law), they take the beta version of the game for a test drive and are immersed in a dangerous alternate reality. The game isn't quite like PlayStation, though; it's a latexy pod made from the guts of mutant amphibians and plugs via an umbilical cord directly into the user's spinal column (through a BioPort). It powers up through the player's own nervous system and taps into the subconscious; with several players it networks their brains together. Geller and Pikul's adventures in the game reality uncover more espionage and an antigaming, proreality insurrection. The game world makes it increasingly difficult to discern between reality and the game, either through the game's perspective or the human's. More accessible than Crash, eXistenZ is a complicated sci-fi opus, often confusing, and with an ending that leaves itself wide open for a sequel. Fans of Cronenberg's work will recognize his recurring themes and will eat this up. Others will find its shallow characterizations and near-incomprehensible plot twists a little tedious. --Jerry Renshaw, Amazon.com

  5. Shivers (1975)- David Cronenberg [Amazon.com]
    His first feature, Shivers, is a highly effective little movie about a strain of parasitical beasties that look like diseased penises and, after infesting inside someone, give them maniacal and uncontrollable sexual appetites, spreading their disease exponentially (also note the STD-like terrors of Rabid and The Fly). The AIDS parallel is obvious, but Shivers was made in 1975, long before AIDS was the cause célèbre in Hollywood. -- Daniel Kraus in http://www.gadfly.org/lastweek/arhighcronen.html

    Shivers (also known as The Parasite Murders, or They Came from Within) is a 1975 film directed by David Cronenberg.

    An ultra-modern high-rise apartment outside of Montreal is the site of a medical professor's laboratory in which he conducts unorthodox experimentations with parasitic organisms. Once implanted, said organisms cause uncontrollable sexual desire in their hosts. The community's on-site physician and his assistant attempt to stop the spread of the infection before it can overwhelm the population. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shivers_%28movie%29 [Feb 2005]

  6. Crash (1996) - David Cronenberg [Amazon US]

    See entry on Crash

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